AIDS DRUGS: Companies Race to Keep Up with Shifting Market
As the profile of those who contract HIV becomes more diverse, drugmakers are scrambling to peddle their products to a broader swath of patients, the New York Times reports. "If you're trying to reach gay white men, they are incredibly good about sharing information with each other," said Dean Mitchell, a vice president at Glaxo Wellcome. In the past, drugmakers have successfully garnered the attention of gay men with billboards in select neighborhoods in New York and San Francisco, which was a simple, inexpensive way to spread the word. Gay men "are not only easy to reach, they often have health insurance and a thorough knowledge of the illness," the Times reports. But the epidemic's demographic change means marketing tactics must change as well, as women accounted for 23.5% of AIDS patients last year, up from 19.7% in 1995; blacks accounted for 47.5% of AIDS cases, up from 40.5% in 1995. According to recent statistics presented at the National HIV Prevention Conference last week, blacks account for about half of the 28,000 men who become infected each year and 64% of the 12,000 women. Drugmakers have shifted their strategies accordingly, the Times reports. Merck & Company has revised its series of consumer ads to promote Crixivan from one showing young, male mountain climbers to a foursome that includes a black woman and a black man. Bristol-Myers Squibb is working on its first HIV ad campaign targeted to women, and Glaxo Wellcome will soon broadcast its first Spanish radio ads for Combivir.
In the Nick of Time?
The stakes are high for pharmaceutical companies, experts say. The change in demographics comes at a "precarious time for makers of AIDS drugs." After climbing 123% to $3.47 billion from 1996 to 1997, the worldwide market for AIDS drugs is beginning to lose pace. Sales are expected to increase 14% this year and then slow dramatically by 2003, when sales gains are expected to creep up just 8%, according to S.G. Cowen Securities. Analysts note that HIV drugs often peak quickly in two years and then sales fall off sharply as more advanced therapies hit the market. Competition among drugmakers also strains profits. With 14 HIV drugs on the market and five more on the way -- three from Abbott Laboratories and one each from Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb -- drugmakers are stepping up their efforts to pitch their products. "In what may be their broadest reach yet, drugmakers have stepped up their marketing initiatives to the nation's prisons," the Times reports. In addition, analysts say that competition has "become so intense" that drugmakers offer discounts to city and state health departments that agree to sign two- to three-year supplier contracts. Analysts predict that the next breakthrough will be in collapsing the number of pills patients take each day into a single dose. "You'll see that some of the products that are going to be introduced will be very successful," said Rick Winningham, president of oncology and immunology at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which may "soon release simplified versions of [HIV drugs] Videx and Zerit." He said, "The standard of performance in this market has really gone up. When there were only one or two drugs, the standard wasn't that high. But it has gotten better and better" (Morrow, 9/9).